One of the things I love about writing is that I get to do research. I did extensive research for my Order of the Sicari series so I could give readers a sense of being in the moment. For me, that’s the point of all research—giving readers that “You Are There” feeling. Some of my research is historical in nature and at other times, I’m researching contemporary topics. In the past six months, I’ve communicated with two different martial arts masters who’ve been so generous in helping me understand death touches and other types of interesting self-defense topics. You can see one of them, Sensei Flavio Matias, in action here.
For me, the research never really ends because I’m continually looking up small details related to the specific book in production. Sometimes I’ll need to look at a 3-D image of a building or watch martial arts videos when I want to make a fight scene more realistic. I’ve asked experts questions and read up on all types of topics. My research is made up of splinters of information that brings a book to life image-wise for a reader.
Getting the imagery just right when it comes to writing action or describing my characters environment is research intensive for me. My research can dissolve into minutia sometimes, such as how old a sewer system might be in present day Rome (not easy info to find!). Then there’s the garbage issue. Like many ancient cities, Rome sits on top of the refuse people threw out into the streets. From what I’ve read, the collection of refuse in the streets was worse than a NYC garbage strike. When it came time for the Romans to build something new, they just built right on top of the garbage. Not only that, but there is a lot of ancient Rome now buried under modern buildings and roadways. A shame really when it’s almost impossible to do excavation beneath a storied building. I had to account for this fact when I was developing the clues the characters find when it comes to the hunt for the Tyet of Isis.
The thing I love the most about research is that I’m always learning something new. They say that if you learn something new every day, your brain will function better as you age, which means you’ll live longer. Hmmm….maybe I shouldn’t research so much, just because the brain is healthy, doesn’t mean the physical body will keep up with the brain! LOL
With Assassin’s Heart, I had to expand the historical research I’d done when developing the back-story of how the Order of the Sicari came into being. The basics of Roman military life and rank had to be reviewed in greater detail, and I had to learn more about how the Romans lived, how their homes were built, how they practiced their religion, built their roads, ran the government. Now you might ask why I had to go into such detail for Assassin’s Heart when it came to ancient Rome. It’s a good question. Assassin’s Heart has a dual story line for the main characters, Lysander and Phaedra. In the book, they share a past life together that plays an integral part in the development of the Order of the Sicari. So I had to meld the present with the past in telling the story of these two heroes/heroines. I even created a Google map of sites for events that take place Assassin’s Heart to help me figure out breadcrumb trails, distances and general placement of monuments. It’s a public map that you can view here.
One of the important pieces of my research involved the Pantheon, one of the more famous historic monuments in Rome. In Assassin’s Heart, the big finale fight scene takes place inside the building, so I needed to know as much about the monument as possible to ensure the accuracy of my descriptions. Some of what I learned was that the Pantheon was originally a temple that housed many of the gods that Romans worshiped. When the Catholic Church became the dominant religion in Rome, the Church converted the Pantheon for Christian services. Later on it became a tourist attraction, and it now serves as both a historic monument and a place of worship every Sunday. Pretty awesome that a building that's two thousand years old is a) still standing and b) is still in use.
Then there was the medical research. One of the really cool things about being a writer is that you can put your characters through hell when it comes to life and death situations. I have this terrific medical resource who gets a kick out of helping me ensure that what I want to do is medically possible. When I ask her for particular injuries that characters can survive, we bounce things back and forth that can be quite grizzly in content, but I believe it adds to the realism of what I do to my characters. If I have a character with a nicked spleen, I need to know what the signs are so I can depict the injury accurately. Suspension of disbelief is so much easier if I get my research as exact as I possibly can with the help of my wonderful resources.
Research isn't an exact science. I get it wrong sometimes, and as much as I'd like to correct things, once it's in print, it's there. But my overall goal is to create the ambiance that allows a reader to either skip over what they know doesn't belong or they can suspend their disbelief long enough to enjoy the story. All in all, I think research has a major impact on a book’s story telling. Setting is a character all by itself, and if it gives my readers the sensation of actually being right there with my hero and heroine, then all the researching bits and pieces of minutia is worth that.
So what type of research do you thing would add ambiance to a book? Did any of my research tidbits pique your interest enough to want to know more?
KATI: Thanks so much for visiting, Mon! Berkley has kindly offered to send one lucky commenter copies of both of the Order of Sicari books: Assassin's Honor AND Assassin's Heart!